Hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, is caused by a virus. While there are several types, the most common are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C are leading causes of liver cancer in the United States; however, both hepatitis A and hepatitis B are preventable with safe and effective vaccines, and hepatitis C is curable with prescribed treatment.
Since many of those who have viral hepatitis do not experience symptoms, getting tested is the only way to know for certain if you or a loved one has the disease. This is especially important for family caregivers who may be at higher risk of contracting viral hepatitis from their loved ones, especially if they are exposed to blood or bodily fluids. A study published in the Journal of Viral Hepatitis found that family caregivers who provided care for patients with hepatitis C were at increased risk of infection compared to non-caregivers. Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that family caregivers of patients with chronic hepatitis B were at risk of contracting the disease.
Family caregivers and their loved ones are encouraged by healthcare providers to get tested for viral hepatitis. They may ask a series of questions about the caregiver's lifestyle and any potential risk factors, which can help them make an informed decision about testing and or vaccinations. Hepatitis Awareness Month is designed to help improve everyone's understanding of viral hepatitis transmission and risk factors and to decrease social stigma against viral hepatitis. By being informed and taking preventative measures, family caregivers can help protect themselves and their loved ones from the adverse effects of hepatitis.
While vaccinations for children and adults are available against hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccination for hepatitis C, though curing treatments are available. Dr. Andrew J. Muir, hepatologist in the Duke Department of Medicine, shares these five things to know about hepatitis C:
- It can be cured.
- Treatment can be effective and well-tolerated. Treatments now include pills instead of injections, which can often be more appealing to patients, as well as to those who care for them.
- Patients will have scarring on their liver; however, knowing if this scarring has advanced to cirrhosis, which is not necessarily related to alcohol disease, can help your medical team prescribe appropriate treatments.
- Practicing liver wellness, such as reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption, keeping a healthy weight, and controlling glucose if you have diabetes is important to reduce the effects of hepatitis C.
- Keeping current with vaccinations is important because those with hepatitis C are at greater risk for complications from pneumonia and flu.
To view Dr. Muir's complete video on the five steps, click here.
During May, we encourage you to learn more about hepatitis viruses and ask your healthcare provider if you or your loved one should be tested. Working together, we can reduce barriers to diagnosis and treatment.
Caregivers, get connected with other caregivers for valuable support and resources. These resources are available at no charge: ABC11's Caregivers Corner Facebook group, access to Duke Health's 2022 virtual caregivers event, and this ABC11's Caregivers Corner website.